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Happening Hong Kong

By Brain Johnston

Hong KongHong Kong is a vibrant slice of Asian urban life complete with bustle, noise, daring skyscrapers and very fashionable people. And from September, it will be home to the newest addition to the Disney family – Disneyland Hong Kong.

Energetic, vibrant and plenty of fun, Hong Kong isn’t a place where the words “I’m bored” are likely to be spoken by your kids. Children of all ages will be entranced by the glittering night skyline, the chugging Star ferries, the bootleg CDs in the street markets and the pink flamingos that wander through Kowloon Park. And if the city itself isn’t exciting enough, you can be sure that when Disneyland opens on 12th September this year, Hong Kong will well and truly be established as a prime destination for family holidays.

The third Disney theme park outside the USA and the one closest to our own shores, Hong Kong’s Disneyland is on Lantau Island near the airport and easily accessible on the Tung Cung Line of the MTR, which heads out from Central and Kowloon. You’ll be able to take a spin in a teacup and meet many of the beloved Disney characters such as Winnie the Pooh, Snow White and Mickey Mouse. The centrepiece at Fantasyland will be the brand new Fantasy Gardens, unique to Hong Kong Disneyland, and there will also be entertainment and parades that celebrate local culture. (With a good forty percent of customers likely to come across the border from mainland China, there will also be an emphasis on Chinese food in the restaurants.) Tomorrowland, on the other hand, is filled with science fiction and soaring space adventures, including an Intergalactic Spaceport of shops and restaurants filled with robots, rocket ships and floating planets.

At 310 acres Hong Kong Disneyland is small compared to its US counterparts, and not intended to be a replacement for visiting them.

The cost of a day pass is approximately A$51 for adults and A$36 for children 3–11yrs, but this rises to A$60 and A$43 respectively at peak times, which includes weekends, public holidays, Golden Week holidays in May and October, and school holidays through July and August. You can stay at two hotels on site. Disneyland Hotel
is a Victorian–style palace with turrets, crystal chandeliers and sweeping staircases priced at A$276 per night and upwards, while Hollywood Hotel recalls the glamour age of the movie industry and starts at A$172. Prices are per room, with cribs provided on request. Baby–sitting services are also available. So far bookings have been huge, with ten thousand rooms already booked out, mostly by local residents. Ticket sales will be capped, a lot like going to the movies. This will ensure the park doesn’t get overcrowded. It also means you will need to secure your tickets in advance via a travel agent or email reservations@hongkongdisneyland.com

While Disneyland is now the icing on the cake for family visits to Hong Kong, make sure you stay long enough to explore its many other Hong Kongdelights. A highlight is The Peak, reached on a rack railway that climbs behind the skyscrapers to reveal dazzling views of the city and harbour. The walk around The Peak, past millionaires’ mansions and with panoramas unfolding at every corner, is unbeatable. The more energetic can also hike further up the hill and watch local kids flying kites from the summit. What else you do at The Peak depends on your temperament, with entertainment ranging from Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks to Ripley’s Believe It or Not and a Discovery Playground.

Back down in Central, children will enjoy the little alleyways that run between Queen’s and Des Voeux Roads. Here street stalls are crammed with cheap costume jewellery, bags, printed T–shirts and souvenirs of all sorts. Across the harbour in Kowloon kids can plunder Temple Street for clothes, watches, electric goods, toys and CDs. There are also several interesting places to look rather than buy, such as the Goldfish Market along Bute Street, where unusual Chinese goldfish are displayed in enormous aquariums, and the Bird Market on Yuen Po Street, where old men gather to show off traditional Chinese songbirds in lacquered cages. The kids will love it when a particularly impressive bird is rewarded with a fat worm, offered up through the bars on the end of a pair of chopsticks.

Speaking of chopsticks, there’s no doubt that Hong Kong’s superb cuisine is one of the highlights of a stay in the city. Don’t leave without going to a dim–sum restaurant, where you’ll be presented with a hundred different steamed foods in bamboo baskets and enough choice for even the most cautious of kids. Some dim–sum restaurants even carve their food into animal shapes such as rabbits, fish and butterflies. (The tourist office’s Essential HK has listings and photos of the most popular dim–sum places in town.) Chinese desserts are also likely to appeal to children with their mixtures of custards and jellies bearing exotic names such as ‘sweet snow frog jelly soup’, and there are several chains around town that specialise in dessert and drinks. And don’t overlook the Juo Bear Comic Café in Causeway Bay, where you can get both Chinese and Western food served up with toys, comics and computer games.

The city’s parks provide a pleasant respite from the busy streets. Hong Kong Park in Central has lily ponds, an artificial waterfall, a playground for kids and a maze. The highlight is the stunning aviary of six hundred birds, one of the world’s largest.

Visitors follow an elevated walkway suspended ten metres in the air among the branches of the surrounding trees. Across the harbour, Kowloon Park has three outdoor pools linked by canals and waterfalls. A sculpture garden, fitness trail, traditional Chinese garden and aviary are also scattered about, and flamingos wade around in the lake.

Hong KongDespite its name, Ocean Park isn’t a park but another adventure complex where you could easily spend an entire day. There are roller–coasters, a re–creation of Chinese
history, dinosaur exhibits, a theatre and even two giant pandas in their own special enclosure. A special Kids’ World features playgrounds, children’s rides, and remote–controlled cars.

A fascinating place of flashing neon lights, bustling pavements and futuristic buildings, Hong Kong has always been fast and exciting, and with the opening of Disneyland it looks set to become a kids’ favourite. Enjoy – few cities are as modern and exhilarating.

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